Concerning Biblical Interpretation and Idolatry
The material on this page was written in the 1970s to respond to the criticisms of Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and the original “Bible Answer Man.” CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research Institute”). The text of this article is published here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.
From: Answers to the Bible Answer Man – Appendix
Witness Lee & the Local Churches Reply to the “Bible Answer Man”
According to a recent newspaper article, the “Bible Answer Man” was represented as being “an expert in biblical truth.” However, in his broadcast of October 8,1977, he placed some very dubious, if not downright erroneous, interpretations on at least four passages of Scripture. For this reason the local churches would like to ask him if he really believes what he said.
John 1:1 says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Concerning the last part of the verse, “the Word was God,” he said, “That doesn’t make the Word, the God with whom he was.” Does he believe that? The preposition “with” in the middle of the verse cannot be neglected in identifying the mystery of two. Neither can the verb “was” at the end of the verse be neglected in identifying the unity of One, not merely of substance, but of person.
The Bible Answer Man made the point that because there is no article before “God” (Theos) in the last part of the verse, it would be better translated not “God” but “Deity.” That would make the clause read not “the Word was God,” but rather “the Word was Deity.”
Besides John 1:1, the word “God” (Theos) appears sixteen times in John without the article. In those instances, would he also substitute the word “Deity” for “God”? This would make John 1:6 read, “There was a man sent from Deity, whose name was John.” John 3:2 would read, “Thou art a teacher come from Deity”; 17:3 would read, “That they might know thee, the only true Deity”; and 20:17 would read, “my Deity and your Deity.”
In the local churches we believe that John the Baptist was a man sent from God; that eternal life is to know God (17:3); and that Jesus ascended to God (20:17). Likewise, we believe that the Word in John 1:1 was “God,” the Person, not merely the essence.
The scholars who translated the Amplified Bible render John 1:1 this way:
In the beginning [before all time] was the Word [Christ], and the Word was with God and the Word was God Himself.
In a footnote on “God Himself” they say, “‘God,’ emphatic, so ‘God Himself.'” In the local churches we believe the Word was “God Himself,” not in a Modalistic way, else we would have to avoid the second clause, “was with God”; but in a way of plurality and unity, in mystery. The “Word was with God” and “The Word was God Himself.”
1 Corinthians 15:45
First Corinthians 15:45b says, “The last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (N.A.S.V.). In interpreting this verse, the Bible Answer Man stated that the context is creation and that the verse must be interpreted in the light of John 1:4, “In him [the Word] was life.”
The context is clearly resurrection. The context can be discovered by studying 1 Corinthians 15:42-44. Verse 42 says, “So also is the resurrection of the dead.” Then in verses 42-44 we find the couplet repeated four times, “It is sown…it is raised.” This is the principle of resurrection. Something is sown in one way, but raised in another way. “It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power: it is sown in a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (vv. 42-44). Verse 45 is the clincher if the argument regarding resurrection. That’s why it begins, “So also.” “So also it is written, the first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
Concerning the view that 1 Corinthians 15:45b is interpreted by John 1:4—this is surely not proper exegesis. The Word in John 1:1-4 was the pre-existent Logos, while the last Adam was a man. The word “Adam” means man and 1 Corinthians 15:47 refers clearly to “the second man.” No doubt there was life in the pre-existent Word, but that is not the point of 1 Corinthians 15:45b. The point there is that the Word of John 1:1-4, who became a man according to John 1:14, and who passed through 33 years of human living as the last Adam, “became,” through death and resurrection, “a life-giving spirit.”
The Bible Answer Man made quite a point that the “life-giving spirit” in 1 Corinthians 15:45 is not the Holy Spirit. I would like to ask him: besides the Holy Spirit, is there another spirit who gives life? In John 6:63 Jesus says plainly, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” In Romans 8:2 Paul speaks of “The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” and 2 Corinthians 3:6 says, “The Spirit gives life.” In these three instances the word “Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit, and in each case it says that the Spirit gives life. Do we have in 1 Corinthians 15:45b another spirit who gives life?
2 Corinthians 3:17
Second Corinthians 3:17a reads, “Now the Lord is the Spirit” (A.S.V.). A questioner asked on the radio program, “Who is the Lord in verse 17?” The reply was, “I believe it’s the Father.” In this same discussion he said, “I think it could be reasonable argued that it is the Father as well as it could be argued that it’s the Son.” He then modified his answer: “I’m not saying that the Father is the Holy Spirit in 2 Corinthians 3:17. I’m saying God is the Spirit who is being referred to by Paul, which falls in perfectly with John 4:24.” Finally, he settled on a synthesis of his two previous answers by saying, “Second Corinthians 3:17 can refer to God the Father, and it’s only saying God is that Spirit…You cannot make it say Christ there, absolutely.” First he says that the word “Lord” in 3:17 refers to the Father; secondly, that it does not refer to the Father, but to God; thirdly, that it refers to God the Father; and fourthly that it does not absolutely refer to Christ — which means that it could conceivably refer to Christ. Finally he ends up interpreting 2 Corinthians 3:17 by John 4:24.
Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:12 that he was using “great plainness of speech.” Why then does the Bible Answer Man make this matter so complicated? If I were answering the question, “Who is the Lord in 2 Corinthians 3:17?” I would answer in this way. In chapter 3, verse 14, Paul tells us that Christ takes the veil away. He goes on to tell us in verse 16 that if we want the subjective experience of having the veil removed, we must turn to the Lord. Christ takes away the veil in verse 14 and the Lord takes it away in verse 16. Surely, then, the Lord in verse 16 is the Christ in verse 14. In verse 17 Paul tells us who Christ is today—”The Lord is the Spirit.” If the Lord were not the Spirit, how could we turn to Him and contact Him?
Dropping down to verse 18, we have the word “Lord” again. First we must discover who the Lord is in verse 18. Second, we must ask whether the Lord in verse 18 is a different Lord from the Lord in verse 17. By this means we can discover the meaning of 3:17a.
Verse 18 reads:
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
In this verse there are the words, “glory,” “Lord,” and “image.” Concerning glory Paul says, “The glory of God [is] in the face of Jesus Christ.” (4:6); concerning image Paul says “Christ…is the image of God.” (4:4); and concerning Lord he says, “We preach Christ Jesus as Lord” (4:5, N.A.S.V.). Hence, the Lord in verse 18 must be Christ.
We have shown that the “Lord” in verse 16 is Christ, for it is Christ who takes the veil away. We have demonstrated that the Lord in verse 18 is also Christ. We emphatically insist therefore, on the basis of inductive logic, that the Lord in verse 17 who “is the Spirit” is also Christ. To say that the Father is the Lord here, or that God is referred to, is foreign to the context. Only a person who is attempting to maintain an absolute (that is, tritheistic) distinction between the members of the Trinity would present such interpretations as he presented. Theology should be derived from the Bible. We should not try to impose our theology upon the Bible.
2 Corinthians 13:5
In 2 Corinthians 13:5 we have the fourth example of how the Bible Answer Man interprets the Bible according to his theology. Second Corinthians 13:5 says:
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? (N.A.S.V.)
According to this verse, one may tell conclusively whether or not he is a Christian. The test is whether or not Christ is in you. If one can answer this question positively, he passes the test of being a Christian. If he cannot, he fails the test.
I would like to ask the same question one of the inquirers asked on the radio: “How can Christ be living in me if He is not the Spirit?” The Bible Answer Man’s answer was “that Christ dwells in you in the person of the Holy Spirit who represents the Trinity.” The trouble here is that he tries to make the Bible fit his nice, neat theological concepts. In his mind Christ is now in heaven and the Holy Spirit is on earth representing Christ. But this is his human thought. Where in the Bible does it say that Christ is represented by the Holy Spirit? In Romans 8:34 Paul says that “Christ…is at the right hand of God.” But in verse 10 of the same chapter he says, “Christ is in you.” In Romans 8:9-10 Paul says, “The Spirit of God dwells in you”; we have the “Spirit of Christ”; and that “Christ is in you.” These are equivalent terms. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christ indwells us in a representative way.
In the local churches our testimony and our experience is that Christ is living in us. Our desire is that every true child of God would have such confidence.
Finally, the Bible Answer Man said correctly that the Scriptures condemn idolatry; yet he condoned its practice in the Roman Catholic Church. His explanation was that the Roman Catholic Church herself condemns “the worship of a statue…as idolatry.” No doubt she does. Surely no so-called Christian church would admit to the practice of idolatry! He takes their word that they do not worship idols. Does he also take their word that the Pope is the vicar of Christ on earth; that souls go to purgatory; that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into literal body and blood of Christ; that their bishops are the true successors of the apostles; that Mary is a co-redemptrix with Christ; that the rite of water baptism makes one a member of the church; that the Lord’s servants should not marry; ad infinitum, ad nausium?
The fact that the Catholic Church says she does not worship idols means nothing. They say many things no Bible-believing Christian can tolerate. I no more believe that harlot when she says she does not worship statues, than I believe her when she says that Peter was the first Pope.
I am surprised at the Bible Answer Man. Does he also believe in the superstitious practices of fingering a rosary, using holy water, and making the sign of the cross?
The distinguished teacher of the Bible Answer Man was Donald Grey Barnhouse. This is what Dr. Barnhouse had to say regarding the Roman Catholic Church in the jacket of the Book, The Two Babylons:
The pretentions of the Roman Catholic Church are old pretentions, and frequently they are based on old arguments…almost all of the practices of the Roman cult have been brought over from paganism. When we come to see that the worship (or veneration—it is the same thing) of the Virgin Mary is really the worship of Venus, Astarte, and that it comes from Babylon, the center of the system is revealed to be Satanic. Image worship is increasing in Roman Catholic Churches, even in the United States.
According to Revelation 18:23 all nations have been deceived by her “sorceries.” Anyone who takes her word as truth is surely under deception. And those who are passing on her interpretations to the public are assisting her in her devilish scheme to deceive men.
Rather than passing on to others what she says, we in the local churches say with John in Revelation 18:4, “Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues.”
This is the third of five articles in this Reply to the “Bible Answer Man”